Ticks are a type of arachnid that have evolved to feast on blood. A tick bite in itself is harmless, but the bacterial and viral infections that can result range from mildly inconvenient to deadly.
The majority of human infections happen in spring and summer when the ticks go through the nymphal stage, and are the size of a poppy seed. Ticks can be hard to identify in the larval or nymphal stages.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, the best way to remove it is with a pair of tweezers, and ensure that you clean and protect the wound after. Do not squash the tick, as this can also transmit disease. Read on to learn about Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases.
Lyme disease, also known as borreliosis, is an autoimmune disease triggered by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. You receive the bacterial infection through the bite of the blacklegged tick (deer tick, Ixodes scapularis) or the western blacklegged tick.
The longer a tick stays attached to your body, the more likely you will contract Lyme disease – but not all ticks carry the bacteria. On average, the tick needs to stay attached to your body for anything upwards of 36 hours – and they are easily missed when they are so small.
When the bacteria passes from the tick’s mouth to your skin, it immediately makes itself at home, often creating a rash as it creates a localized infection. From there, the bacteria moves to infecting your organs, muscles, joints, and hiding from your immune system. As the bacteria is so widespread across your body, it incites many symptoms that can be confused with other illnesses.
The bacteria also creates neurotoxins, which can damage and destroy otherwise healthy nerve tissue, affecting function. The damage causes mental impairment and the misfiring of your neurons, causing tingling, numbness, and pain. Lyme disease also triggers molecular mimicry – where the immune system mistakes healthy tissue for the bacteria and attacks it.
Lyme disease symptoms can vary from patient to patient. Not everybody can pinpoint the time they were likely infected, as the nymphal ticks are so tiny. Also, although the Lyme disease rash, a bullseye rash is considered a classic sign of Lyme disease, it doesn’t present in every patient we see.
Symptoms of Lyme disease include:
- Unusual skin rashes
- Achy with fluctuations in temperature like you were coming down with the flu
- Fainting spells
- Swollen glands
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations or chest pain
- Severe headaches
- Facial weakness or paralysis
- Stiff neck
- Swelling or pain in your joints
- Excessive fatigue
- Brain fog or memory loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Digestion issues
- Nerve tingling, numbness or pain
If you relate to these, you should make an appointment with a functional medicine doctor who specializes in Lyme disease and be tested.
Many people develop Lyme disease symptoms years later, after they were initially infected. Untreated Lyme disease can have serious repercussions on your health, so it is important to get treatment if you know you have likely been exposed to ticks.
The longer you have Lyme disease, the higher the levels of neurotoxins in your body, and the more your cell tissues are under attack.5 Often, patients experience monthly flare-ups, which reflects the bacteria’s life cycle.